So Spitzer, et al have passed a law that allows courts to involuntarily commit sex offenders to psychiatric hospitals until they are "no longer" dangerous-- even if they have not actually committed a crime, or have served their sentence.
"...protecting the public from those individuals whose mental abnormalities cause them to make sexual attacks on others."
"Mental abnormalities?" That they are bad people I can see; but what, precisely, is the nature of this mental abnormality? And it "causes" violence? Causes?
The ACLU of course opposes such an obvious violation of civil liberties-- but they make the same mistake:
"...locking someone up indefinitely because he has a mental abnormality and may commit a crime in the future creates a constitutional nightmare," said Bob Perry of the New York Civil Liberties Union.
"...because he has a mental abnormality." Why the qualification? Is that relevant? And why does everyone agree that there is a "mental abnormality?"
Blame Kansas v. Hendricks, the 1997 decision in which it was decided that dangerousness + a "mental abnormality" is sufficient to involuntarily commit someone (in that case, a violent pedophile) indefinitely-- even after he has already served his sentence. Here's the trick: there would be no other justification for this violation of substantive due process except some mental abnormality that forces you to do things. The only way we can justify indefinitely locking up pedophiles is to call them psychiatric patients.
What's a "mental abnormality," exactly? The Court left the definition up to the states, but it suggests some dangerous synonyms, like "personality disorder."
Here's another: mental retardation. Is mental retardation-- now a exclusion for execution-- sufficient for indefinite civil commitment? They're not going to get better, are they?
There are two main problems with this law. The first is constitutional: you simply cannot lock up a person, indefinitely, unless they committed a crime.
Exactly what is the difference between the Guantanamo terror suspects and pedophiles incarcerated further after their sentence has been completed? Both are being held under the (likely accurate) presumption they're going to cause trouble in the future. Both are driven by an inner and virtually unalterable desperation to commit their respective offenses. Hell, you can even use the same battery of questions to screen for both ("God has given you an odd gift: a schoolbus full of docile 8 year olds. What do you do?") And both are equally explained and treated by modern medicine and psychiatry (i.e. not at all.)
At least the Guantanamo detainees are not U.S. citizens-- they are not entitled to our constitutional rights. For better or worse, American pedophiles are.
If you are against one, you're against both. They're the same.
The law's second problem is social and categorical: these laws interpret certain violent behaviors as psychiatric in nature, without any scientific or even descriptive basis. In other words, it medicalizes behavior simply because it does not know what else to do with it. It says, "only someone whacked out of their skull would be a pedophile."
And some will say, and what do you expect from a culture that so sexualizes youth? Actually, humanity has been sexualizing its youth for thousands of years; it's only in modern times that we've placed an absolute prohibition on acting on it. As I recall, teens getting married was the norm in the Renaissance; the ancient Greeks had institutionalized a form of pederasty-for-education trade.
I bring this up not to justify having sex with kids (duh), but to show that it is quite obviously not a psychiatric disorder. It is a crime that you choose to commit.
There is too much emotion around sexual predators, and it confuses the issues. For example, why do we register them? We don't register serial killers, con artists, unabombers, etc. The argument, "well, wouldn't you want to know if a sex offender was living in your neighborhood?" isn't valid: I assume everyone is a sex offender. Seriously. Especially around my kids. And wouldn't you want to know the Zodiac killer moved in?
Don't misinterpret my support of civil liberties as permissiveness; if you're really worried that a sex offender will offend again, make his criminal sentence longer, harsher. If society wants to make pedophilia a capital offense, fine. But for the love of God, don't turn sex offenders over to the psychiatrists, the two have nothing to do with each other. You may as well send them to the sociologists, they have about as much to do with them.
This is an extremely bad law, and by bad I mean bad for everyone except the bad guys. It sets up the argument that certain "behaviors" are so a part of one's identity that they cannot be altered or prevented, and therefore culpability is reduced while dangerousness is magnified. It allows the government yet another avenue to lock people up without crime. And worst of all, the penultimate decision about who should be locked up for society's benefit is made by the absolute worst group to make this decision: psychiatrists. Psychiatry becomes a tool of the state.
The last major country that ran this way was the USSR. But things are different now, I know. I know.